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Opinion Good riddance to Black January – it hasn't been kind to us parents

I have lines on my face that weren’t there in 2014. A month of rolling childhood illnesses will do that to you.

THIS EVENING I have lines on my face that weren’t there in 2014. Honest to God. A month of rolling childhood illnesses will do that to your complexion. Age you. Literally. Bring you to the brink of exhaustion. And back again.

They allow you up for air for a day or two’s respite. And then hit you again from an entirely different, unexpected angle. One child’s chesty cough finally under control? Bang! The other’s digestive system promptly goes into meltdown.

Chicken Pox. Croup. Hand, Foot & Mouth. And our household’s current illness of choice, the dreaded Vomiting Bug. Take your pick as to your pathogen of choice. They’re all doing the rounds at the moment. Rampantly.

He projectile vomited all over some poor randomer in Dublin Zoo

His nibs got struck down last Sunday morning. And oh, good Jesus, if we thought we’d had it before – newsflash, we hadn’t. One solitary puke in the car seat three weeks ago does not immunity bring apparently. That was just a mere taster of the Vomiting Juggernaut that was to come.

He woke up ropey, appeared to recover, and then projectile vomited all over some poor randomer in the South American House of Dublin Zoo later that day. Plenty of other unsuspecting visitors had taken shelter in there from a cold January afternoon, so they were fairly packed in. That was, of course, until our little guy arrived. And single-handedly managed to clear out the joint in under five minutes.

I still don’t know who he puked on, or how put out they were by some random kid sharing the contents of his stomach with them. But if you are out there Ms Innocent Victim with the soiled skinny jeans, and it’s any consolation, that was but the start of our Epic journey that was ‘Andy Does the Vomiting Bug’.

We had 24 hours of ‘the Pukemeister’. Followed swiftly by what I have by now aptly christened ‘A River Runs Through It’. (And is still, somewhat miraculously, still running. Four days later). I stopped off at our local corner shop en route back from the GP having been ordered to put him on a 7 Up drip. I worried they might not stock it (who actually drinks 7Up?) but couldn’t risk a trip to the supermarket in case he took out some poor unsuspecting OAP.

I walked in the door, and there, slap bang in front of me, was a whole row of 2 litre7 Up bottles. I kid you not. In a shop that sells feck all. The world and its mother must have this bug. There must be 7 Up drips set up all along our street this January.

A walk down the memory lane of January

As I scrolled through my phone during Episode 142 of Bob The Builder, I noticed I had no fewer than 36 webpages open. It was like a catalogue of the various illnesses we have encountered already this year. A walk down the memory lane of January. A diary of their various bodily malfunctions over the course of the past month.

There was the ‘how to tell if a child’s thumb is broken’ from the 2nd January, when he closed the bathroom door on her finger. Whilst she was still on the jacks – the sheer indignity of it. Then there was the ‘cures for constipation’ from slightly later in the month, when the Christmas overindulgence had long since ceased, and yet our little guy’s insides hadn’t quite ‘kick started’ into the New Year.

There followed a fortnight of my mood depending on how many days it was since he had last relieved himself. By day four or five I became borderline obsessive about it as I followed the poor child around with prunes and kiwi fruit and the Lord knows what else. Rejoiced whenever there was movement. And then wondered, out loud, ‘Has my life really come to this?’

And then the more recent ‘Signs of Dehydration in Toddlers’ which made for fairly stark reading as I went ‘Tick. Tick. Tick. Oh, God yes, definite Tick’. Hmmmm. Yes. Off down to the GP with us me thinks. And as I ring to make the appointment, the receptionist recognises my voice without any introduction. Yes, it’s ‘us lot’. Again.

Am I sick too, or just plain wrecked?

The standard question has been asked ‘And have you gotten it?’, to which I have to quite honestly reply ‘I don’t know’. Because there comes a definite point in what your own body is capable of enduring – where the lack of sleep, general exhaustion and overall worry over sick children lead to a overall feeling of perma-nausea. And like you’re liable to keel over at any minute. But you can’t work out if you’re actually sick, or just plain wrecked.

Or perhaps you’ve just got a chronic case of cabin fever due to lack of oxygenation caused by being on ‘lock down’ for 72 hours at a time. Living in a house where every stitch of towel and sheet is frozen solid on the line, and every available surface is randomly tattooed with sticky Calpol rings. The fridge is stocked with every variety of Lucozade known to man and your couch has stains on it which even you’ve long since forgotten the genesis of. Yes, all this and more will slowly do your head in.

Not even a good night’s sleep can help at this point

‘You look tired’ they say sympathetically. ‘Cheers, tell me something I don’t know’, I think to myself. And as I eventually get around to washing my own face, I look in the mirror, and there, staring back at me, unavoidably etched between my nose and my lips, framing either far side of both cheeks, are the two new lines I have acquired since enduring Black January.

I pulled the skin a bit. Tried to iron them out. Somehow get rid of them. But, no. They’re there for good. And not even a good night’s sleep has banished them. Somewhere between getting out the bucket and yet another towel at 4am on Sunday night, and putting on my 23rd cycle of puked-on clothes, my skin decided to up and give up the ghost. Youthful elasticity gone, replaced by haggard ould one. Or perhaps just your typical mother-of-two come the end of January.

The kids now look fine. Have both shed a few pounds during the course of the month, and cheeks not quite as rosy as usual, but skin glowing and as peachy perfect as you could imagine, and that mischievous glint well and truly back in their eyes. Their mother, not so much so. As I write this, she looks every one of those 38 years she turns tomorrow.

Yes, Black January has not been kind to us mothers. Or fathers for that matter. Christmas now seems a bloody long time ago. And a life before runny noses and tickling coughs an absolute eternity.

Roll on the Spring. At least then I can have a tanned, lined face.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for here.

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